"Hey guys," begins Kate Swenson's Facebook entry, and immediately it's clear something is wrong.
"So," she continues, "I've been crying for the last half an hour, trying to ... pull it together."
Swenson has been documenting her experience as mother to an autistic son on the Facebook page "Finding Cooper's Voice." Her candid video diary has earned her a loyal following of thousands.
Lately, Swenson's reach has exploded far beyond that, thanks to a video uploaded on March 31, the eve of Autism Awareness Month. In a week, the widely shared video has been viewed about 450,000 times.
Often near tears, Swenson tells the story of a bad experience she and her son had at a park in Woodbury, a suburb of St. Paul. Swenson had taken Cooper to a playground called "Madison's Place," which, she explains, was specifically constructed for the use of special needs children.
"It's Cooper's favorite place," Swenson says. "It's one of the only places we go."
Her six-year-old son is nonverbal, and is described by Swenson as "loud, ram-y, and clumsy." At one point during his solo playtime at the park, Cooper was rolling around on a slide when he knocked down a little girl.
The girl's father confronted Swenson -- yelling at both her and Cooper before, she notes, he checked on his daughter -- and asked "what was wrong with my kid," and "why was he [there]." The man was later joined in the confrontation by the girl's mother. Swenson says she apologized repeatedly, and tried explaining her son's condition, but got no sympathy in return.
After an argument that continued into the parking lot, she says she cried on the drive home, and thought she wouldn't be able to leave the house with Cooper ever again.
"How's that for autism awareness?" Swenson says. "Another one gives up."
Among the hundreds of thousands of people reached by Swenson's video: That little girl's mother, who, Swenson tells the Star Tribune, has contacted Swenson to say she and Cooper should feel welcome to come back to the playground. Swenson says they will, though she's thinking of having cards made up informing other parents that her son has autism, and asking them to "be patient."
My Message on the Eve of Autism Awareness Month
You want Autism Awareness? Here it is. You tell me how we are supposed to leave our houses. Tell me how we are supposed to live in the community. I'm all ears. Because parents of kids with disabilities feel completely isoloated. And it's not by our kid's disabilities. It's by the people in the world that refuse to acknowledge that our kids are part of this world. #autism #autismawarenessPosted by Finding Cooper's Voice on Friday, March 31, 2017